The US territories of Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands remain devastated from hurricane Maria in 2017. People still lack adequate food, water, housing, power, transportation, communications, schools, and health care while Trump seeks to cutoff disaster relief funds. 45% of Puerto Ricans and 22% of Virgin Islanders live below the poverty line.

Even before Maria, a Fiscal Control Board — a fiscal coup d’état signed into law by Democrat Barack Obama to run the Puerto Rico’s finances — was imposing austerity to squeeze Puerto Ricans dry to pay off over $70 billions in illegitimate and often illegal debt, over $15,000 per person. The Virgin Islands owes $2 billion debt, over $20,000 per person.

The Washington-dominated territorial governments were induced by Wall Street vulture funds to take out public finance versions of payday loans with interest as high as 785%.

Now we see the disaster capitalists swooping in to take advantage of Puerto Rico’s financial and physical depletion and grab public assets for their private profit. Over 250 public schools were closed In Puerto Rico at the beginning of the current school year. Trump’s education secretary, Betsy DeVos, is pushing the privatization of public schools through vouchers and charters. Tuition was doubled at public colleges.

The privatization plan for electric power extends the islands’ expensive dependence on imported oil and increases its dependence on fracked-gas imports for centralized oil- and gas-fired power plants whose long transmission lines make the system vulnerable to hurricanes. This oil and gas plan precludes the construction of cheaper, decentralized, hurricane-resilient, and climate-friendly wind and solar power, which the islands have in abundance.

We must demand that the US:

  • Cancel the Debt, with provision for a taxpayer-funded compensation fund for creditors who are local residents, businesses, banks, and union and public pension plans.
  • Eliminate the Fiscal Control Board.
  • Fund a Marshall Plan for Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands to build housing, schools, clean water infrastructure, public transportation, communications, and renewable energy and fund social services and anti-poverty programs, including Medicaid, SNAP, Child Tax Credit, and Earned Income Tax Credit.
  • Stop the Privatization of Schools and Electric Power.
  • Solarize the Power System.
  • Repeal the Jones Act to cut costs of imports to Puerto Rico.
  • Assist Puerto Rican environmental refugees who have relocated to the mainland United States.

Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands were already impoverished by centuries of colonization and disenfranchisement before Maria hit. It is time for the US to establish a binding process with full participation by the peoples of all US territories for self-determination of their political status.

Howie Hawkins 2020

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